Advent is a time of preparation. John the Baptist sets this anticipatory tone when he says in Matthew 3 (NRSVUE), “Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.” Like its liturgical cousin in Lent, Advent is a season of practicing, planning, and training prior to a watershed moment in history. We sing and study, celebrate and commemorate. Advent is a time of transformation and transition. The world and us in it move from before to after. We move from how we were to what we are becoming.
Sometimes we lean too heavily into the theme of preparation. Presbyterians love to prepare. We have been preparing for forever, it seems. For what, I am not sure we know. We like to plan and train. We are still one of the most highly educated denominations in Christendom and are more at home in a classroom than anywhere else. We revere worship and preaching, but a version that often mirrors a lecture hall or recital more than a joyful glorification of God.
Advent, as a time reserved for preparation, domesticates the truly transformational nature of the season. If all we are doing is waiting, we betray the reality that Christ has already come and is already changing the world. We should practice, plan, study, but not at the expense of participating in the transformative work that is happening presently.
John the Baptist’s charge does not end with that line early in Matthew 3 either. Later he says, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Therefore, bear fruit worthy of repentance, and do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.” We are preparing for something, but the fruit of the preparation is action – here and now.
Our love of preparing folds nicely into so many of the clichés we tell ourselves about the church. “We cannot do much. We will wait for a time when we are more capable.” “We are too small. We cannot make much of an impact.” “We do not have enough members. We will wait for a time when there are more people to carry the load.” And yet, our churches are changing the world. First Presbyterian Church of Sapulpa gave out two hundred Thanksgiving meals, including turkeys, to folks in their community a few weeks ago. Southminster Presbyterian Church of Tulsa is using their annual Deacon Tree Project to support Inside Out Re-Entry Services, a Tulsa faith-based non-profit that supports women by “Providing advocacy, resources and discipleship to help women rebuild their lives.” John Knox Presbyterian Church in Tulsa (and so many others that do a similar thing) are changing the lives of individuals and families by ensuring that people have Christmas gifts and clothes through their Angel Tree.
We should prepare in Advent. We should continue to act, as well. How is Advent changing you this year? How are you changing the world?